In my last post, I wrote about the resolution to “Develop an exit strategy from public schools” that is being proposed to the Southern Baptist Convention. Since we’re trying to put together an effective entrance strategy here in Western Europe (doing the opposite of what the resolution calls for), I’ve decided to put myself in the shoes of someone back in the states and give some suggestions for engaging our communities through the public school system:
They aren’t well-paid. They work long hours, and they are “on call” 24 hours a day. Their impact is great, but they receive little recognition. They share their testimonies and beliefs every chance they get, thought they often deal with strict regulations against openly sharing their faith. I’m not talking about missionaries to far-off places, here; this is the life of your average Christian public school teacher. Which brings me to my first point:
1. Local churches need to start treating public school teachers as missionaries. I mean it. A commissioning service, full prayer support, maybe even some financial assistance. They are doing missions by sharing life with people in natural ways. Everything they teach, every opinion they give is heavily influenced by their relationship with Jesus. We see it so clearly in foreign lands- missionaries in China teaching English classes- but for some reason we put teachers in a different category. They go through culture shock. They have to learn a “foreign” language. They have to be creative, patient, and culturally relevant. It’s time we recognize that.
What if, instead of pulling out of the public school system, we pushed our way into it? What if the public school system was flooded with Christian students, teachers, and administrators?
2. We need to start sending teachers into the system. Whenever a young person asks me about becoming a missionary, I always encourage them to look for ways outside the professional missionary system. Having the title “Missionary” brings with it more barriers and obstacles than we often realize. What if we started recruiting, training, and sending young people into the public school system as missionaries to their communities? We send short-term semester and summer missionaries to rough, inner-city areas to minister, why not send qualified teachers into those schools that are desperate for teachers anyway?
3. We need to be intentional about training and sending our children to public schools. What if we trained them, even the young ones, to study the culture of their class at school? What if we prepared them to face the dangers of their particular mission field and helped them get spiritually ready to face each day in that context?
4. Parents must get involved. The public school system began it’s sex education program in the fourth grade when I was in public school. My mom went and previewed the films and curriculum, and then made me read a James Dobson book to supplement what was being taught. Ok, so I don’t recommend giving kids a James Dobson book, but I think she had the right idea. If parents know what’s being taught to their kids, they can counter those worldly things with truth. This way, kids know what the world says, and learn to contrast that with what the Bible says.
But parents aren’t only limited to reviewing curriculum. They can join the PTA, be a “Class Mom,” or a Teacher’s Aid. They can get on all those committees, boosters, clubs, and organizations that actually decide what the public school does. At our local school, there was a PTA committee that decided whether or not a church plant could meet on the campus on Sundays. Parents can even substitute teach. This would extend the parent’s influence to reach not only their own kids, but other kids in the community as well.
5. To affect change, service is the answer. We have “work days” at church, why don’t local churches organize and sponsor work days at the local public schools? The administrators are always looking for ways to save money. What if some Christians came in and raked leaves or repainted the lockers? Schools always need recess monitors and traffic controllers and crossing guards. A Bible Study group could supply refreshments for the School Board meetings. Doing these things, without expecting special favors in return and without any strings attached, would affect the local public schools for the better. What if the school administrators didn’t have to see Christians as their enemies? Wouldn’t it be something if, when faced with a need, the principal felt he could call the local church for help?
So I guess what I’m proposing here is that we develop an “entry and engagement strategy” for the public schools. Not so we can make them “Christian,” but so we can make to most of this great opportunity we have to interact with and serve our communities. Our involvement is what will help our children. It is being salt and light.
In Western Europe, missionaries develop and implement these sorts of strategies in order to engage their communities and plant churches. We would start here and go even further, looking for those existing entry points into the community and making the most of them. What if the churches that send us were doing the same back home?